Really, I’m Not! Or Am I?

I am not obsessive!I’ve been feeling too lazy in the last few days to bother going out much even though I’m on vacation over the Holidays. Granted, the record-breaking 46-centimetres (18-inches) snowfall in only 15 hours over Montréal on the 27th has made going out unappealing, especially since the City expects it will take more than a week to clear up the mess, which means driving and parking around town is a total nightmare.

Still, I’m a bit at a loss to explain why I’ve been putting off going to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal to see an exhibition I really want to see: Il était une fois l’Impressionnisme. After all, this city does have a completely underground subway and I live only two blocks from a station! But the mere thought of having to bundle up to brace the cold and putting on my heavy and uncomfortable winter boots is enough to make me say to myself, “Nawh…”

So what I have been doing instead?

Well, aside from going to my sister’s for two days over Christmas, I’ve done some reading online. I’ve done a few minor but helpful updates on the web application we use at work. (I consider that stuff more of a hobby than actual work.) I’ve watched some TV. I’ve called a few out-of-town friends. But mostly, I’ve rejigged yet again my budget spreadsheet, which is leading me to seriously question my sanity …in the sense of saying to myself, “Maurice, you’re obsessing over this thing!”

But I think my reasons for coming back to it stems from the fascination I hold as I assess what I’ve accomplished thus far.

  1. The October 2011 version of my budget was so opaque in comparison to my November 2012 version that it felt like a runaway train. It seemed to work although I didn’t understand how or why, but then I had to make several corrections when it derailed a little bit. In my newest version, however, the Summary tab matches up to the penny at all times with my actual bank balances, which eliminates all confusion and ambiguities.
  2. According to this August 2012 Globe & Mail article, “the average Canadian’s non-mortgage debt reached $26,221 in the second quarter of 2012, up $192 from the previous quarter,” a level the article calls “a new record high.” I seem to recalll that, when I did my first serious budget in a decade shortly after I started my job in March 2006, my debt was about 125% that figure stated for 2012. Being used to living on very little and not knowing if the job would become permanent, I achieved the remarkable: I brought it down to just 38% by January 1, 2008. Then, however, I did that crazy thing of getting married, so when I picked up the pieces (and myself) and restarted budgeting in October 2011, I was back up — far less deeply than in March 2006, at about 81%. Yet in only 15 months (i.e., in about one week), despite expensive curve balls, failures, and lawyer’s fees for the divorce, I’ll be at 33% and totally in the clear by the end of 2013 (probably much sooner given an important variable I haven’t factored into my calculations and should kick in by early spring).
  3. I keep coming up with creative and flexible ideas not only to accelerate this debt-elimination plan but also to actually build some savings and to find ways of eventually contributing more towards retirement. Basing myself on the principle of “pay yourself first,” I allow myself a lot of wriggle room on every paycheque — so much so, in fact, that during cold winter months when go out even less, I end up not spending all my “allowance.” So, instead of spending it during the next period, I throw whatever excess — even if it’s only 10 bucks — into debt servicing or savings. It’s amazing how quickly a few dollars here and there add up quickly!

I’ve said it before, but this budgeting thing is not a chore but an ultimate act of optimism for me by virtue of looking years into the future. I’m fortunate in that there’s enough coming in, but the discipline budgeting imposes is allowing me to see some fabulous options in front of me.

  • I should be able to pay for my next car in a few years out-of-pocket, which would also be less expensive since many car dealers give a considerable discount on a cash purchase.
  • Since I only get three weeks of vacation time (which is not enough) until I reach 10 years of seniority at work but my employer allows me to buy up to five days of vacation time per year, I will soon be able to effortlessly afford such a purchase.
  • Going forward, I will always have savings to cover vacation expenses “as I go” rather than putting them on credit and worry about paying later, which is what got me into debt in the first place (aside from the fact I had no choice but to live on credit prior to March 2006).
  • I can also think about making big purchases like air-conditioning and furniture without getting back into debt, or at least not on a long-term basis. That’s how I managed to buy winter tires and a new suit in mid-November and had them paid off by Christmas.
  • And best of all, I project that in only three years, if nothing goes extraordinarily wrong, I could have from six to nine months of clear salary sitting around, building a bit of interest but being readily available should some personal disaster occur.

The only grey cloud in this sky filled with silver linings is that purchasing a condo in Montréal remains out of my reach. I’d need to make $15K more a year to even scratch the entry level and I sure as hell ain’t going to get myself a(nother) husband just to make a condo happen, so after the extensive number-recrunching I’ve done, I’ve not only stopped even entertaining the thought but also stopped feeling any regret about not being able to achieve that one goal, for really, in all other respects, I’m feeling incredibly empowered and optimistic financially for the second time in my life.

Twas a Few Years Before Christmas…

Charlie BrownerIt seems like it’s a common thing to say, but I have to say it anyway: I can’t believe it’s Christmas already! Although tonight it’s freakin’ cold and there’s snow on the ground, it seems like those days and nights when it felt like metal would melt were only two or three weeks ago. Yet here we are, entering a stretch when daytime high temperatures aren’t expected to go above freezing.

As usual, I’m not “feeling” the whole Christmas thing. I realize that’s one persistent bit of inertia in my life as I look back at 10 years of blogging. In fact, it’s a sentiment I expressed in a posting on Day 1 of aMMusing.

This year, however, whether it’s because this blog reached the 10-year mark or because I’ve done a lot of thinking back in the aftermath of the divorce becoming finalized (or because of a whole whack of other, totally unrelated things), I’ve been feeling particularly nostalgic. I don’t mean sappy or sad nostalgia. Just plain ol’ nostalgia. And perhaps a little bit brooding.

Aside from the fact I failed to lose weight or quit smoking this past year, I’m feeling positive and optimistic personally. Life is good! Sure, I need to get out more and stuff like that, but that’s more a function of my persistently (aggressively?) being myself, not of a depressive state. But the past year at work has been so intense and busy that I’ve often been left with little energy to indulge in extra-curricular activities.

No, really, it’s just that I’m thinking back a lot, particularly in the last few weeks. At this time five years ago, I landed in Mexico City for the first time. Indeed, I proposed to NowEx five years ago this weekend. Where would I be tonight if I had listened to my inner voice a week afterwards and rescinded my proposal? I know I would be in Montréal, as I had planned that move beforehand, but what about the rest? Of course I realize it’s impossible to answer those questions, yet they have been surfacing a lot lately.

But there’s a real strand of nostalgia that has been occurring in my mind in the last few months and moreso since I blogged about Danny. And I’m not sure how I feel about it.

My mom turned 84 this year. She was born in 1928. Think about that for a second: 1928! Think about how much the world around her has changed in her lifetime. I mean, she has known of chamber pots and going to an outhouse in the early years of her life! Yet, just last night, this woman had a three-way video-conference call with two of her kids. She remembers getting her first TV and taking a bus, kids in tow, to get the week’s groceries. In fact, she even admitted not knowing what to expect on her wedding night.

Given that I’ve only been around for 47 years, I haven’t witnessed as many changes as she has. But when I thought back about Danny, I realized just how many of the objects I have around the house today didn’t exist 30 years ago, and that freaked me out a bit. At the same time, I recalled how even my mom feels that it seems as if time is flying by faster than it used to, and in a way, it’s no wonder: it’s impossible to be bored these days when even stores are opened on Sunday and there’s no shortage of things to do.

You know what? I have absolutely no idea what I’m trying to express in this posting. None whatsoever! I don’t know if I’m wishing to go back in time, although I can’t imagine why I’d want to do that because the only way that would be any fun is if I could do so with the knowledge acquired thus far, which is a double impossibility. Am I wishing I could rewrite my history? Is it that I would like to go back to do certain things better, or to appreciate more some moments that I feel I didn’t appreciate enough?

I. Don’t. Know. And when I don’t know why some thoughts and ideas keep coming back to me, it drives me crazy. Or, as some might say, crazier.

The More It Changes…

Well, well, well! Look who’s turning 10!

10th Anniversary

Ten years ago tonight, after a few months’ hesitation, I turned off the TV, went to my office, downloaded and installed Moveable Type, and started blogging. I didn’t even have a name for my blog when I started the installation, so I guess even the monicker aMMusing is turning 10 tonight. But one thing’s for sure: I didn’t think this blog would still exist 10 years later.

Me: Hi. My name is Maurice and I’m a reluctant blogger.

Chorus: Hi Maurice!

Those were my opening lines on December 17, 2002. Indeed, I had reluctantly decided to become a participant in a phenomenon that had started a few years back in the U.S. but that hadn’t really caught on yet in Canada, let alone in Halifax where I was living at the time. However, as someone who has always enjoyed writing, I knew that blogging would be a natural fit for me, but then, as now, I also worried about whether or not it was such a good idea to post what essentially amounts to an online diary within such a public space. Plus, I wondered if I would run out of things to say or if anyone would actually be interested in what I wanted to say.

Like many new bloggers at the time I started enthusiastically, posting daily and sometimes several times daily. Then, after a few months, I would skip a day or two; eventually, over the decade, I would abandon my blog for months, leading me and others to wonder if aMMusing had come to its “natural end.” But, for whatever reason, I simply could never bring myself to definitely throw in the towel. I simply couldn’t, even though other online phenomena like social networking sites had widely replaced the blogosphere and even though the unique ambiance that existed within the blogosphere disintegrated when marketers decided that companies, not people, should “have a blog.” It was like how the magic in a special neighbourhood disappears once the merchants’ association breaks down and allows Mickey D to open an outlet on the best corner of said neighbourhood.

When I look at what I wrote in aMMusing in the last decade, I marvel at all that has happened and all that has changed. But, at the same time, I find slightly disturbing not just what hasn’t changed but also what themes, ideas and regrets recurred through the decade and even before then. It’s enough to make me wonder if I’m just a hopeless creature of habit or a stubborn soul who keeps refusing to learn his karmic lessons.

Last night I spent several hours rereading some of my postings. I’ve written nearly 1,300 in 10 years, so it would take a long time to read them all …not that I would really want to do that. However, I’m glad they’re all there. A handful has become so trivial that I’m not sure anymore what the posting is about, but most still have some resonance.

I was glad to find the postings leading to and following my father’s passing. Unbelievably, it’ll be nine years already next March since he left us. It was a watermark event to be sure, but my exact thoughts and feelings of the moment would be lost today had I not written them down. Indeed, the memories today would be vague if it weren’t for those records.

But aside from such pivotal events, I’m struck by how often I’ve expressed sentiments of inertia — of wanting to change or lose a habit, for instance, and finding that it’s essentially still there, just like it was in 2002. A decade ago, I struggled just as I do now with my tendency not to want to socialize but feeling that I’m missing out on something. And certainly not due to lack of trying, but I’m still single and, perhaps, even more likely to remain that way — not because I’m feeling that NowEx has burnt me, but because I’m coming to realize that perhaps I don’t have the temperament or the personality to be otherwise.

On the other hand, when I look back at a decade of aMMusing, not all is as bleak. In fact, had it been all bleak, I probably would have abandonned it long ago! On the contrary, for the most part, aMMusing has been a source of pleasure and fun. It has allowed me to get to know some people I otherwise would probably never have met. It has allowed me to vent, to “think out loud,” and to tell little stories about an ordinary guy’s life. It has even helped me make decisions, like finally getting off my duff and moving to Montréal.

So to that — because of the overwhelming good — I say “Cheers to aMMusing!” And who knows: Perhaps I’ll be posting a similar entry on December 17, 2022…

Memory Lane: Journey to Gratitude

Memory LaneIt’s hard to believe that we’re coming to the end of yet another year. Didn’t this one just get started? Moreover, has it really been that long since the 1990s ended? Yet as I say that, when I go back into my memory vault, I realize just how so much has changed within my relatively short lifetime. I’m sure if the me from 30 years ago had been carried into today, I would be shocked.

Think about it. On the day I was born, homosexual acts were a criminal offense in my country. They stopped being so four years later upon the adoption of the 1969 omnibus bill in defense of which then Justice Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau famously declared, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” And it was only four years later that the American Psychiatric Association stopped viewing homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Society as a whole, however, didn’t immediately follow in those significant steps forward. In fact, by the time I came out in 1982 at barely 17, it was still a massive deal to do so. Massive! There was a real and warranted fear back then that coming out as gay could have a negative impact on all other aspects of one’s life, from housing to employment, because being gay could be used against someone for blackmail and discrimination. What’s more, gays and lesbians were never portrayed in a positive manner in the media, and the fact a new deadly disease primarily associated (at the time) with gay men surfaced a year or so before didn’t help any.

I remember the ’80s as a decade when “being out” was certainly very relative notion compared to today, not to mention requiring a lot of guts. I remember being extremely cautious in choosing with whom I would associate. To my shame — but remembering how it was back then! — I recall crossing the street if I saw a flamboyant effeminate man** whom I knew walking toward me. I remember how much I agonized each and every time I gave some thought to coming out to a new friend. And I still remember how nervous I would be about being seen going into Halifax’s only (unsigned) gay club. So, if you had taken the me of 1982 into 2012, don’t you think I would be shocked to learn that same-sex couples have had the legal right for seven years to get married, let alone that *I* would have married …and divorced?

** Someone like Jimmy Somerville sparked so many conflicting feelings in me in the ’80s. I totally got “Smalltown Boy,” but his openness made me uneasy. Nearly 30 years later, I feel extreme gratitude toward him if not an outright crush on what he has become today…

Perhaps you’re wondering where this sudden walk down Memory Lane is coming from? Well …I’m glad you asked.

I began my coming out in 1982 with people like BeeGoddessC. In the course of our conversations, she suggested, given that she’s 15 years my senior and a lesbian, that I might benefit from talking with a guy closer to my age. She suggested Danny, who had recently moved to Halifax and whom I had met the year before while participating in a community event called the Moncton Subway Paint-In. (In fact, the theme of the paint-in that year was the “International Year of the Disabled,” and his design won.) I had not yet been to Halifax and I wasn’t aware that it was a few years ahead of Moncton as far as “gay stuff” was concerned, although that might have been relative to Moncton being more backward at the time.

Anyway, without getting into all the details, I did find my way to Halifax a few weeks after BeeGoddessC’s suggestion and spent a few days at Danny’s. I will admit, though, to my shame, that the naïve barely 17-year-old that I was didn’t know what to expect. Because gays were often portrayed as hypersexual freaks, I even wondered if that would be the moment I would, shall we say, “lose my virginity.” I know it was silly to have thought that, thus why I’m a bit ashamed to have wondered about that. But, of course, nothing of the sort happened; he merely did what BeeGoddessC figured he’d do: listen and advise.

It was such a memorable trip that, for many years afterwards, I could describe it in exquisite chronological detail, including the name of his (female!) roommate, where we went out to eat, and our midnight trip to Peggy’s Cove. Being the vulnerable teenager that I was, I developed a massive crush on him as a result of his kindness. In fact, I idolized him, albeit so very privately. The mere mention of his name would send my heart racing. Although he’s only four years my senior, he became in my heart and my mind’s eye the epitome of grace, kindness and sophistication.

But then one evening at BeeGoddessC’s, she casually dropped that apparently Danny had moved to Montréal. I remembered how shattered I felt learning this news. For a year or two I had quietly held a torch for him, but to him, I realized, I was just a younger hometown boy whom he’d hosted and comforted. We weren’t exactly close friends, so there was no reason for him to tell me that he’d moved. What’s more, there was no way he ever could have known how I felt about him, and the paradox is that my attraction to him wasn’t really sexual. It was, as I said, that of a vulnerable guy coming of age.

Obviously the torch I held went out. I went from thinking about him every day, to occasionally, to never. However, if someone in the following years and decades mentioned his name, I’m sure I could never suppress a little smile. And occasionally, as we moved out of the ’80s into the ’90s and HIV/AIDS caused such ravage among gay men in North America, I would think to myself, “Is he okay? Is he still alive?” Granted, I had that thought for many with whom I’d lost touch over the years, but the thought that HE might not be okay or alive would make me sadder than most.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I mentioned at the top how different everything was as far as being gay in the early part of my life. However, had the 17-year-old me been catapulted 30 years ahead, would I not have been just as surprised to see what other stuff changed as well as what didn’t really change that much? I mean, in 2012 we’re not driving flying cars like the Jetsons, and frankly the clothes we wore in the ’80s looked more like something out of Star Trek than what we wear now!

But in 1982, I certainly never thought vinyl records would be relics like 78s were back then, or that our world would become so incredibly small and virtual, thanks to computers and the Internet, that I would be working from home …for a bank, no less! Remember that, in 1982, the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall not only still existed but also didn’t show real signs that they would crumble just seven years later. Pierre Trudeau was still Canada’s prime minister, just as he had been for almost my entire life at that point. If someone made $50K per year, s/he was likely holding a very high position (a federal Member of Parliament in 1981 made about $47K). Cable TV, if one had it, perhaps gave a dozen channels. If someone had a second household TV, it was likely a portable black-and-white, while the main colour TV was a piece of furniture almost as big as a baby elephant. AM radio was for pop and Top 40 music and FM radio for higher audio quality and targeted music. Cash registers in stores were still essentially huge mechanical devices; 1- and 2-dollar bills still existed and losing a 20-dollar felt like a huge loss. (Heck! I still remember the 10-dollar bill I lost one night at the Cosmo around that time, when the hourly minimum wage was about $3.80!) Most phones had a rotary dialer; only a few had numbered buttons. Cell phones didn’t exist, let alone portable phones that doubled as hand-held computers and cameras.

And you certainly didn’t see two guys walking down the street hand-in-hand, even in a major city, unless they were cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

As for actual “cruising,” I never developed a knack for it. But would I have foreseen in 1982 that this artform would essentially have disappeared 30 years later, or at least primarily moved into a virtual realm?

And would I have known that it would be through that virtual realm and this thing called “social networking,” which would have drawn a blank stare from me back then, that I would make contact again with Danny?

Indeed, like a lot of us these days, I’ve found long-lost acquaintances and friends through the infamous Facebook. I found Danny back in June 2009, but you’ll recall that’s around the time NowEx was coming to Montréal for supposedly six months which instead turned into that well-documented two-month finale. Because of that spectacular relationship collapse and my subsequent tailspin, I never replied to Danny even though he did confirm back that, yes, he’s indeed THAT Danny, that he’s still living in Montréal, and that he had “so many nice memories of me.” (Awwww… Maybe I hadn’t been as insignificant to him as I had thought, even though I was just a mixed-up kid at the time…)

He came back to my mind a few weeks ago and I sheepishly sent him another note through Facebook. Since he doesn’t sign onto it very often he took several days to respond, but when he did it was again in a manner just as lovely and gracious, referring this time to how it seems like we met in a completely different lifetime. And he was very keen on the idea of trying to touch base with BeeGoddessC, as he’s heading to Moncton for the holidays and seems to be planning to split his time between the Montréal area and Moncton in the coming years in order to be closer to aging relatives.

This time I only took a day instead of three-and-a-half years to respond to him so that I could give him BeeGoddessC’s coordinates well before he was to head out to Moncton. Moreover, in addition to giving him a very condensed version of what I’ve been up to for the last three decades, I reminded him of my memorable visit with him in Halifax 30 years ago, adding that if I had never told him just how significant that trip had been to me and properly thanked him for it, I was finally doing so now, 30 years later.

The world really has become small, but as well, I’ve come to the realization that life can be like a weird winding path along which we travel sometimes carefully and other times carelessly. When careless, we might take some people for granted until it’s too late, like I fear I did with Raymond. But sometimes, when we’re careful, we can go back along that winding path and, with luck, have the opportunity to thank someone who has made a huge difference on our journey to now.